Trigger Warning: Suicide

The beauty of anime is that there are so many different kinds: action, comedy, romance, drama, and so on. ORANGE is a healthy mix of the latter two, and will definitely get you in your feels. The series unapologetically touches on subjects like suicide, nostalgia, and forgiveness. On that note, in honor of Mental Health Awareness month, this series should undeniably be highlighted.

Ichigo Takano’s shojo manga was adapted into a 13-episode anime in July 2016 and was directed by Hiroshi Hamasaki (TMS Entertainment). Although a few years have passed since its first airing, this powerful story of loss and friendship is an ageless one. ORANGE does not directly revolve around the classic citrus fruit, but it does combine love and time travel. Explaining its plot will be a bit challenging, but I’ll give it a shot anyway.

future orange characters read letters
Future Naho and friends read letters from their past selves | Image: Crunchyroll

Letters and Time Travel

ORANGE’s story unfolds through a series of letters written by the teenaged-selves of five characters: Naho Takamiya, Hiroto Suwa, Takako Chino, Saku Hagita, and Azusa Murasaka. The anime opens with the adult versions of these characters digging up a time capsule containing these letters. Subsequently, one of the first words uttered in the series is, “Now that I am 26, I have so many regrets.” The mournful voice belongs to Naho, the main protagonist of this story.

Now, this is where ORANGE’s story timeline might get a bit confusing. After such a heavy introduction, time travels back ten years. Viewers are transported to Past Naho’s world. Here, she’s a 16-year-old high school student and late for school. In the midst of getting ready to leave, she discovers a letter addressed to her—from her. From just the first few pages, Naho learns that the letter discusses future events. She explains that the most significant event of that day—but in reality, of her entire life—is the introduction of a new transfer student. His name is Kakeru Naruse—and he ends up being pretty darn cute.

However, the most painful message from these letters is that Kakeru one day disappears; through a string of unfortunate events, Kakeru takes his own life. This, unfortunately, becomes a reality that Naho and her friends blame themselves for since they are evidently his only friends. This is how ORANGE’s heavy story blossoms. 

Naho Isn’t Alone

Initially, Naho is skeptical of the letters, despite their accuracy in telling the future. Eventually, her trust in the letters and fondness for Kakeru develop. Later on, Naho’s friends reveal that they all had received letters from their future selves, too; they all know about Kakeru’s fate.

Prior to realizing this, however, they all spend a good amount of time keeping everything they learned to themselves. Most importantly, Naho struggles to grasp what the letters tell her; she finds it difficult to help Kakeru on her ownespecially while under the impression that no one else around her has letters. Therefore, it becomes a huge relief when she finds out that she is indeed not alone, and that her friends are also willing to help. In turn, their bond grows stronger as they all work with each other to keep Kakeru from killing himself. Their friendship thrives beyond a typical high school one. They all become (quite literally) life-changing people.

A happy Kakeru | Image: Funimation

Kakeru’s Loneliness

Contrastingly, we also learn about Kakeru’s side of things. He feels terribly alone for a while, too. Painfully, we watch him go into a deep depression and feel extremely lonesome, despite having new friends. We learn that he loses his mother. To make matters worse, he blames himself for her death. Kakeru is selfless because he keeps this reality from his friends for an extremely long time. He attempts to mourn on his own and endures the heavy weight of his guilt without expressing it to anyone.

Eventually, however, he breaks and admits the truth to Naho and his friends. While they listen and comfort him, he learns that he is definitely not alone. He realizes that he does not have to deal with his troubles by himself; it is perfectly fine to express his own feelings to them, no matter if his feelings are good or bad.

More Than Just Paper

All in all, for Naho and her friends of the alternate timeline, the nostalgic letters represent more than just premonitions. For one, the letters, of course, guide the friends into an effort to save Kakeru’s life. Beyond this, however, the letters also teach them to take care of each other. Every moment that is mentioned in the letters creates an opportunity for Naho and her friends to be better people while being Kakeru’s keeper. They realize the value of each other’s company and grow to eventually confide with and trust each other. 

VIOLET EVERGARDEN: Anime’s Emotional Masterpiece

The Power of Friendship

Simply put, ORANGE is one extended flashback and a reconciliation of regrets. In this way, the characters all inherently create a parallel universe in which Kakeru still exists. Within that universe, the friends seem to fulfill almost everything they had wished they had done before, all for the sake of getting things right for Kakeru. However, while Naho and the gang seem to keep Kakeru alive by the end of the series, it is worth pointing out that that is all but the reality. Every episode is merely an exploration of what could have been, via the letters. (But more on that later.)

Powerfully, ORANGE also demonstrates how something as simple as meeting someone new can escalate into something as profound as wanting to save that person’s life—granted, of course, that everyone involved cares so much so. (With that being said, I’m very glad that Takano’s main characters are sympathetic towards Kakeru. They are the epitome of great friends.)

Nevertheless, in this way, Takano’s ORANGE does a great job with building this circle of friends. Together, they all go through so much to look out for Kakeru, with great thanks to the letters, their trust in them, and in each other. It is safe to say that the letters brought everyone closer together, in both the present and alternate timelines.

Friends always look out for each other | Image: Crunchyroll

The Athletic Festival

One of the most crucial spans of time in ORANGE takes place during the high school’s athletic festival. It is here that Naho and her friends go through several important hurdles to help Kakeru, to ensure that he has a good time, after noticing that he is down in the dumps. The letters’ significance truly shines here, as well as the characters’ care for their friend.

For instance, at the festival, it appears that all students have some family members supporting them—except for Kakeru. He expresses that his parents are not able to come out and support him, hiding the truth of his parents. The letters, however, tell a different story; all of his friends know better. As a result, everyone makes efforts to invite and get Kakeru’s grandmother to attend the festival. Much to the surprise and happiness of Kakeru, his grandmother arrives and is able to support him. 

The Mattress Errand

Another huge way that the letters allow the friends to change the future is after Kakeru injures himself. In the original timeline, Kakeru hurts his ankle during the pole-toppling game but doesn’t tell anyone. When one of their school instructors puts Naho and Kakeru on an errand together, Kakeru generously agrees to do so, despite his injury. The letters convey this truth to the rest of the friend group, which prompts them to find Naho and Kakeru. When they do, they immediately help Naho and Kakeru with their errand of lifting a mattress. (Which, by the way, sounds like a ridiculous errand, to begin with.)

Anyway, as soon as they find the pair, they apologize to Kakeru for not noticing his pain sooner. As they all lift a side of the mattress, they each remind him of how they are always there for him, and how, as friends, they are all willing to support one another.  This sets up a beautiful symbol of all the friends helping each other, and how they are willing to help Kakeru “carry” his burdens.

ORANGE's main characters
A photo of Naho (bottom left) and friends | Image: Crunchyroll

A Story of Healing

Collectively, ORANGE’s story is told in a special way: in between the extended moments that we spend in the letters’ universe are vignettes of the present timeline. There, adult versions of Naho and her friends often wonder about the letters’ universe—if it exists at all. At the same time, they visit people connected to Kakeru, such as his grandmother, in an effort to further find some closure.

Because all of this underlines the hard-hitting reality that Kakeru is truly gone, the unearthing of these letters represents the unearthing of their past feelings as well. Even after a decade, the group of friends still beat themselves up over Kakeru’s death; the letters symbolize their grief and self-reflection. Their journey, therefore, becomes one in which they try to forgive themselves. While we watch them somehow create a new world, they also try to “fix” the unfixable one that they are in.

Kakeru’s Side

Speaking of forgiveness, there is another angle that should be discussed again: Kakeru’s. In his own way, he too struggles with forgiving himself. As mentioned earlier, Kakeru feels intense guilt after his mother passes, and blames himself for her loss. His story, in that regard, is also one of grief and battling inner demons. Upon realizing that this is the reason behind his suicidal thoughts, we all desperately want Kakeru to forgive himself, too. It is not his fault that his mother passed, and thankfully, his friends also try to convince him of that.

Collectively, ORANGE’s story is particularly painful and powerful because it exhibits one of the hardest battles we sometimes have to fight as human beings: self-acceptance, forgiveness, and resilience after a tragedy. Takano’s series does more than just illustrate harsh realities; it also expresses how we can heal, and how we ought to be nicer to ourselves.

Naho hopes for a future where Kakeru is still around | Image: Crunchyroll

The Butterfly Effect

Moreover, ORANGE’s plot undoubtedly connects to the concept of the“butterfly effect.” As defined by Merriam-Webster, the butterfly effect is “a property of chaotic systems (such as the atmosphere) by which small changes in initial conditions can lead to large-scale and unpredictable variation in the future state of the system.” In other words, this concept states that one tiny occurrence has the ability to cause a larger change somewhere else.

The entire premise of the letters, serving as guides for Naho and her friends, reflects the butterfly effect well. In every episode, they are all given the choice of listening to their future selves via the letters—or not. In the instances that they do not heed the letters’ advice, the future ends up holding significantly different events. All in all, this highlights the importance of decision-making and the impact that each decision has on our lives. ORANGE teaches us that every move we make in life matters, and can mean more than one initially believes.

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The Bigger Picture

Overall, it is important to note that both universes seem to exist independently; the letters’ universe does not affect that future timeline. Nevertheless, what is definitely intriguing about this anime is how it lures viewers into these alternate universes anyway. Although ORANGE is technically a “slice-of-life” anime, it ends up becoming so much more as the characters’ daily lives hold such powerful purpose.

Through this journey, viewers are able to experience parts of a profound spectrum of the human experience: loss and regret, but also acceptance and forgiveness. At some point, we all—in some way, shape, or form—lament over the friends’ tragic loss, almost as though Kakeru was our friend, too. However, through the friends’ growth and healing process, we also seem to receive some closure.

So if you are looking to watch an anime that will tug at your heartstrings and have you crying for days, ORANGE is a must-watch. Through all twelve letters (episodes) paired with sentimental music, ORANGE intensely reminds us all to be friendly to one another—and to be forgiving of others, as well as ourselves.

You are not alone. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255, or via live chat.

Featured image courtesy of Funimation.

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